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Post-trauma meaning-making among South African survivors of different forms of trauma

Debra Kaminer

This exploratory study compares post-trauma meaning-making (with regard to both the comprehensibility and the significance of the event) across South African survivors of three different forms of potentially traumatic experiences: criminal assault, rape, and the death of a child to cancer. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 participants who had survived a criminal assault, 10 who had survived a rape, and 10 who had lost a child to cancer. Volunteer participants were recruited from survivor support organizations through snowball sampling. lnterview transcripts were analyzed using techniques from grounded theory. With regard to comprehensibility, self-blame attributions and social-political explanatory strategies were reported across both assault groups, while religious or philosophical meaning systems were more commonly employed by participants who had lost a child to cancer. While participants in both assault groups had developed several explanations for the perpetrator's actions, participants who had survived a criminal assault were unable to develop explanations for why the perpetrator chose to use violence against them, and this created significant distress and ongoing feelings of vulnerability. This group also reported feelings of distress related to their racial stereotyping of the perpetrator, which conflicted with previously held values and beliefs. With regard to significance, participants reported similar benefits to those found in the literature from economically developed countries; however some benefits were not common across all three groups. Recommendations for further research in this area are considered.

Recorded: October 2009, Dubrovnik - Cavtat, Croatia.
Coping & Resilience International Conference

Organiser: The Brisbane Institute of Strengths Based Practice

Debra Kaminer
Debra Kaminer
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Debra Kaminer

MPsych, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Debra's teaching areas and research interests include psychological effects of trauma and violence, trauma intervention, anxiety disorders, child therapy and narrative therapy.

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